Sunday, April 15, 2007

Short Takes - April 15, 2007

Short Takes is back after a week that I took off because I really wanted to write the Amazing Race piece, plus I had more running about to do than normal. I have little bit of a surprise coming for you in the next few days but I'll explain it when I finish it.

Don Imus: Okay, everyone has been talking about this one since it broke so I might as well include my one cent's worth – the proverbial penny for my thoughts. I've never seen Don Imus; his show is on one of those cable channels that I can get but couldn't be bothered to pay for because it just doesn't interest me. I've never heard his radio program because morning AM radio from the US doesn't penetrate this far into Canada and we have enough of our own morning bloviators that we don't need to import any from the Great Republic to the south. That said I do have an opinion (of course). I have seen a clip of what he said and taken by itself it's not that bad. In fact he doesn't start the sequence of events, it is the guy sitting with him (as I said I've never seen the show so I don't know if he's a sidekick or what) who uses the word "hos"; Imus only adds "nappy headed" to what the other guy said. And if it were just that incident he might have gotten away with it either with a reprimand or the suspension that he was initially given. The problem is that it wasn't an isolated incident, it was part of a pattern of statements and behaviour that show him to be bigoted and a mysoginist in both his public and private life. My blogging buddy Sam Johnson cites some examples of Imus's behaviour in one of his blog posts on the matter (Sam, If you'd title these things it would make it so much easier to pick out the one post I need – but no matter): "I've been in radio now for twenty three years and I've bumped into folks in the business who've told me stories about Imus and they way he treats folks off the air. No races in whole, but individuals. Allegedy, his treatment of fellow employees is horrible." But it's not just Sam and hearsay reports. Consider Keith Olbermann's reaction to a statement by Imus calling the MSNBC coverage of his firing "hypocritical and unethical":

This from a man who believed he and his on-air staff were entitled to make sexual, racial, ethnic, or homophobic jokes about anybody and everybody...

A man who reduced women staffers at MSNBC to tears, and conned one into coming on the air and saying embarrassing things about her co-workers, which led to her dismissal by the company.

A man whose ethics were so high, that, in the NBC case at least, the traditionally distant nature of corporate America had to listen to the better angels of its nature, when virtually all the employees of a network and an entire news division said 'we have understood that you haven't fired him the last 10,000 times, but you have to do it now.'

I don't know that "corporate America had to listen to the better angels of its nature." Apparently there was participation from about thirty NBC News employees (including Al Roker and Ron Allen) in a meeting with News President Steve Capus about how to resolve the situation. On the other hand I suspect that NBC was worried about advertisers pulling their business and advertisers were in turn worried about action from a really big constituency.

Some people approach this action as a blow to Freedom of Speech. Sorry, but I'm not buying it. No one is abridging Imus's freedom to speak. He can say whatever he wants but NBC and CBS aren't going to pay him to do it. In general terms you have the right to say whatever you want and I have the right not to pay you to say it or allow you to say it on my property. And while the airwaves are "owned" by the public, which is what gives the FCC the right to license broadcasters and to regulate what is said on them, it is broadcasting companies like CBS Radio and NBC that control the means of using those airways. I seem to recall a saying to the effect that "the press is only truly free to the man who owns the press" (certainly Henry Ford and the Dearborn Independent were proof of that). Substitute radio station or cable TV network for press and you sum the Imus situation up entirely.

Nancy Grace and the Duke Rape Case: Just so you don't think I'm ganging up on Don Imus because he's a white male who made a racist and misogynistic remark about Black women, I'm going call for the firing of a woman for things that she has said about white men. I'd love to see Nancy Grace fired for things that she's said about the Duke Rape Case other court cases. In some ways she is more dangerous than Don Imus with her attitude that being charged with a crime – or even suspected of committing one – is tantamount to being guilty. In the Duke Rape Case she reversed her position on the importance of DNA evidence when the evidence didn't suit her position that the lacrosse players were guilty of rape. The kind of statements that Grace makes have the very real potential to taint the jury pool in cases that go to trial. In fact this is one reason why Canadian courts enforce a publication ban on evidence in court cases before evidence is presented to the jury in the criminal case and the other side has a chance to refute that evidence. I'm not really a fan of John Stewart as a news source but here's his take on Grace and the rape case.

Guess Who!?: That's right, it's your old pal Woody Woodpecker. According to animation expert Jerry Beck, Universal will be releasing a package of Woody Woodpecker cartoons that has my inner animation geek absolutely drooling in anticipation. It's not just Woody Woodpecker either. The package contains Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, some of the Lantz Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons (the character originated at Disney and the deal last year between ABC and NBC for Al Michaels returned the rights to the Disney Oswalds to the company but the ones don by Lantz remained at Universal), and a host of others including cartoons that the network wouldn't allow to be aired on the Woody Woodpecker TV show because they contained caricatures of black musicians which were deemed in 1957 to be racist stereotypes. There will also be six Behind the Scenes segments from the old Woody Woodpecker Show featuring Walter Lantz.

As a kid I was a huge fan of The Woody Woodpecker Show. In part it was the interaction between Woody and Walter and in part because there seemed to be an intimacy between Lantz and his viewers. Not to take anything away from Walt Disney's intros to the various incarnations of his shows, but he always seemed to be unapproachable, almost as if he were having you in for an interview; I suppose it was the office and the desk. Lantz always seemed more open and genial.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Last week – when I didn't do this article – the PTC's worst show of the week was Family Guy for being generally insensitive and for making doing double entendre jokes – in short the usual sort of stuff that Family Guy does. They were also having a sort of pre-emptive strike at Morgan Stanley since the statement from Connecticut Chapter Director Mary Simon Streep mentions no specific programming that the company sponsors.

This week the PTC decided to use the Don Imus incident as a springboard for their call for "cable choice" (a la carte cable to the rest of us). In a statement released on April 11 – ironically the day that Imus's show on MSNBC was cancelled – PTC Chairman Tim Winter stated "One of the most tragic ironies of this whole Imus incident is that those who have been most harmed by his insensitive remarks will be forced to underwrite his salary as soon as his two-week suspension is over. Outraged consumers should have the ability to 'unsubscribe' to MSNBC or other offensive cable networks without having to lose their cable subscription entirely. The Imus comments are only the latest symptom of a larger and more concerning problem. There has been a shocking volume of racist and anti-Semitic material guised as 'comedy' on advertiser-supported basic cable television. African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Jews have been specific targets in recent months. The PTC has noted the use of the 'n-word' over 140 times in the last two years, including 42 utterances of the n-word in one recent episode of South Park alone." Winter also called on civil rights groups to change their attitudes on "cable choice": "A number of civil rights groups have recently expressed opposition to cable choice. We hope that the Imus incident and these other instances of racially insensitive fare on basic cable will encourage a reconsideration of their position." Now I don't pretend to be an expert on such things but it seems to me that among the cable networks that would be hard hit by a move to "cable choice" would be stations like BET, Univision, and Telemundo; stations that direct their programming to minority communities but which benefit from being sold as part of a package rather than individually. After all, consumer outrage at programming isn't the only reason – or even the most popular reason – why consumers would consider unsubscribing from stations.

This time around the PTC's "Worst Show of the Week" is ABC's In Case Of Emergency. "ABC's new sitcom In Case of Emergency infected primetime television this week with crude sexual content and innuendo. Between Sherman dreaming of a threesome with himself, Joanna visiting a prostitute for a massage, and Jason being blackmailed into having sex with his secretary, the April 4th episode filled nearly every minute of its time slot with inappropriate content." Then they go into details:

  • In Sherman's fantasy, he sees two identical versions of himself preparing to engage him in a threesome.
  • Joanna seeks treatment for her stiff neck from an unfamiliar massage parlor. Although it is blindingly obvious to the viewer, Joanna is na├»ve to the fact that the massage parlor is actually a front for a prostitution business. The owner of the venue makes it clear to Joanna's "masseuse" that girl-on-girl "massage" cost $50 more because it takes more time.
  • Jason learns that he will be indicted by a grand jury unless someone can testify on his behalf. He realizes that the only person with whom he has a good reputation is his old secretary, who is also the only woman he knows with whom he hasn't had sex. The secretary agrees to testify, but only if he "rides her like a racehorse all night long."

The PTC statement sums up, saying: "This episode represents some of the worst content that prime-time television has to offer. Lacking any real creativity, pointless and promiscuous sexual content is dumped into American homes in the 9 o'clock hour. Furthermore, this particular episode once again exposes the ineffectiveness of the television ratings system to protect viewers from such content, as the show was only given a "TV-PG" rating." I am torn between wondering why the PTC hasn't noticed this show sooner – the first scene of the first episode features Harry (Jonathon Kellerman) going to a Korean massage parlor for a "hand job" only to discover that his "masseuse" was the valedictorian of his graduating class (Kelly Hu) – and wondering what exactly the PTC considers "real creativity" considering that most of the shows that it has featured as its "Best Show of the Week" have been reality shows, with American Idol being the current preferred choice. While I haven't been watching In Case Of Emergency regularly when I have I found it entertaining and a more enjoyable show than the somewhat similar The Class

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